Hey! Parents! Leave them kids alone!
Horse Show Week in Dublin is just over and the shops are full of “Back to School” signs. The end of the long school holidays is looming.
How many parents were driven to distraction because their children, off school, were “bored”?
Many children nowadays spend countless hours on the road being ferried to classes on everything from horse riding to harp playing. Even during the free school holidays there are “Summer Camps” everywhere on every sort of activity. It is important it seems that children are “occupied”.
But I believe that parents sometimes unintentionally disadvantage their children through occupying them.
By the time some children reach their pre teenage years one of their most common complaints is,
And why would they think otherwise? It has become the responsibility of someone else to provide entertainment for them.
Good parents naturally wish to give their children “every advantage” in life. This includes the opportunity to experience varied forms of leisure activities. However, idleness is a worthy activity too. It brings its own benefits. Doing nothing is also doing something.
Sometimes kids just need to be left alone.
By constantly hovering over every aspect of a child’s life we deny him the opportunity to be alone. And to learn how to be alone.
Through my work as a teacher I have known many children who cannot content themselves in their own company. They do not know how. Perhaps they have never been left to their own devices for long enough to dream up their own amusements.
I have sat at parent / teacher meetings with women who whip out diaries and check on their child’s various evening activites and listened as they rattled off programmes of dancing classes and piano classes and football and band practice…all for one child. I get exhausted just listening to them.
Such children lose out on discovering how to be creative and they never learn how to be self reliant.
I don’t recall being ferried around to various forms of occupation when I was a child. It was not that I was disadvantaged. None of the other children in the locality were ferried anywhere either. And “Bored” was not a state we knew.
And so, I and my siblings, along with countless others of our generation, learned how to occupy ourselves. It was a part of life when you grew up in rural Ireland in the 1970s. The adults in our world assumed we had the ability to amuse ourselves. “Go on outside and play” was their most common strategy for defusing explosive family life. The adults never asked how we played or what we played with. It was just assumed that when you were a child you would automatically know how to “play”.
And we did know.
In August, when the Dublin Horse Show made the T.V. schedules, we built “jumps” out of bits and pieces we found around the yard. We built show jumping courses that would challenge the best of our imaginary mounts including, of course, “The Wall” made out of heavy, yellow hay bales. We had our “Water Jump” which insisted on leaching away through carefully spread plastic bags no matter how often we topped it up with full buckets. Many a heated debate took place over whether a brother or sister did, or did not, put a hoof in the water. We were Harvey Smith and David Broom, the Shcockemole brothers and Eddie Macken.
We were cowboys and Indians and we were cops and robbers and we developed fertile imaginations and learned not to rely on an adult world to provide our entertainment. We knew how to provide our own and we kept responsibility for providing it for the rest of our lives. We were told by our adults to “play” and so, we learned to be creative, to be independent and to enjoy being alone.
Today, if someone of my generation uttered the words “I’m bored!” he or she would be thought laughably underoccupied. Or just plain Sad.
As I walked along a country road one sunny evening this week and looked down from the raised tarmac into various roadside copses I was struck by the amount of lush undergrowth beneath all the trees. Briars and brambles and thick, inaccessible ground vegetation flourished everywhere. There were no signs of any tracks or little pathways among the trees. There was no evidence that any children ever play Hide and Seek or anything else in any of those wild and wonderful places any more.
Maybe all the kids were indoors playing games on their smart phones. Or else in some hard pressed parent’s car being ferried to … horse riding lessons?
With real horses.